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NYC stations form tower coalition

Eleven New York TV stations are considering Governor's Island as a possible site for a new shared broadcast tower, either as a primary site or as a backup to protect against a future catastrophe.

Most of the stations lost their primary transmitters and antennas when Tower 1 of the World Trade Center was struck on Sept. 11. Since then, they have been broadcasting from facilities at the Empire State Building or towers in Alpine and West Orange, N.J.

Organized as the New York/New Jersey Broadcasters' Coalition, the stations have tapped Bill Baker, president and CEO of noncommercial WNET, to lead the effort to find a site and build the tower.

The Governor's Island site, owned by the federal government, is the "best option" so far, Baker said. Governor's Island is off the southern tip of Manhattan. The proposed site is 4.5 miles south of the Empire State Building.

The coalition includes WABC-TV, WCBS-TV, WHSE-TV; WNBC(TV), WNET(TV), Telemundo's WNJU-TV, Fox's WNYW(TV) and WWOR-TV, Tribune's WPIX(TV), Paxson's WPXN-TV, and Univision's WXTV(TV).

The tower on the Empire State Building provides good coverage of the market. Even though some of the coalition stations have established permanent facilities on the Empire State Building, all are interested in a second site that could provide primary or backup analog service and enough room for planned digital service.

The coalition members now at Empire are WABC-TV, WCBS-TV, WNBC, WNET, WPIX, WHSE-TV, WXTV and the two Fox stations. WABC-TV, WNBC, WNET and WPIX made the switch from Alpine to Empire just last week.

Other TV and radio stations may crowd onto the Empire tower. Baker said management at Empire (Helmsley-Spear) is "looking at a number of creative ways to locate stations there."

According to Baker, New York State Governor George Pataki has instructed his Office of Technology in Albany to look into easing tower restrictions on Governor's Island, while other officials, including U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, also appear willing to help the broadcasters get back on air.

"Federal and state officials are very concerned about the television industry in New York and have all said that television is vital to the distribution of emergency information and to the New York economy, so they're helping us," Baker said.

Coalition stations will share legal, accounting, insurance and construction costs, although Baker couldn't say how much.

Once it has picked a site, it hopes to be on air within a year to 18 months, "although you never know how these things will play out," Baker noted. Finding a site that isn't limited by local zoning, FAA height restrictions, and signal interference with other markets is a challenge, he said.

The coalition looked at the Fresh Kills landfill in Staten Island, approximately 15 miles south of Empire. But it was deemed impractical because signals would interfere with Philadelphia stations and height restrictions due to nearby Newark Airport would limit the stations' coverage.